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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a fantastic book about love, friendship and prejudice at any time in life, within any social status, anywhere in the world.  The character of Major Ernest Pettigrew is pretty much the stereotypical older English gentleman.  He’s classy, he’s respectful, he’s neat and tidy, he’s quiet and he’s not one to ever make a scene.  Enter Mrs. Jasmina Ali and her Pakistani background and ways and the Major finds his proper, sedate life turned upside down.  Right from the start, there is some chemistry between Mrs. Ali and the Major but because of both cultural and class prejudices (from the townspeople, from the Major’s son Roger and even from the Major himself), Mrs. Ali leaves the town, and the Major, behind.  What the Major does next leads to one of the best “adult” endings in fiction ever.  Very little in this book is trite or clichéd.  An excellent, mature read for all…not only for those in the twilight of their lives. 
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Set during both WWII and in the mid-1980s, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an exceptional novel about a time in history American we are too willing to forget…the internment of Japanese Americans during the war. Set in Seattle, Hotel focuses around main character Henry, who is a young 12-year-old Chinese American boy in 1942, where much of the book takes place. During these historical chapters, he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl who is a second generation American. They both start out apprehensive of each other (Henry’s father loathes the Japanese) but eventually grow to care deeply for each other. When Keiko and her family, along with all of the other Japanese families, are rounded up and moved to camps set up by the American government, Henry is not only unhappy but confused…confused since Keiko is more American than he is. Keiko does not even speak Japanese. This contrasts with Henry’s background…where his parents speak only Chinese and they force him to speak only “his English.”
I really liked this novel. It has one of the best, most moving stories I’ve read. Ever. Now, mind you, I am not saying this is the best book I have ever read. Why? What is the difference between “best story” and “best book?” Simple: the way it was written. As I was reading Hotel, I found myself thinking about another book I had read that was also set in the Pacific Northwest about Japanese Americans: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Even though Snow takes place AFTER WWII and Hotel focuses on events that happen DURING the war, I continued to make comparisons between the two while I was reading Hotel. Comparisons to the story and the location and the romantic elements…NOT comparisons to the writing. Guterson’s novel from 1994 is filled with lyrical prose that I remember submerging myself into and not wanting to escape from…vivid from page one to the end, brilliantly bringing to life an entire setting through the pages. The love story in Snow between the main characters is enhanced by the poetic words given to describe both them and their surroundings. Jamie Ford’s writing in Hotel is good…very good. It’s just not excellent. It’s the story in Hotel that you want to savor, not the prose. Had Ford brought to Hotel the expressive, inspired language Guterson used, Hotel might just have been a true literary masterpiece. But, having a minor masterpiece is still pretty good! It’s a great, page-turning read and a story that will stay with you long after the final page.

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In a previous post, I spoke of all of the books I read on my iPad while on vacation. Here short reviews of the titles that I read:

Brett, Simon — The Body on the Beach – The first of Brett’s Fethering mysteries, this is a fun cozy mystery set in a smallish coastal town in the South of England. The two main characters become amateur sleuths as they investigate a body that one of them found on the beach.

Crombie, Deborah — Where Memories Lie – An intense mystery featuring Crombie’s English police team of Kincaid and James. This one involves a diamond brooch that was stolen by the Nazis and belongs to a woman who needs to get to the bottom of why people associated with the brooch are turning up dead.

Fielding, Joy — Missing Pieces – A page-turning thriller that also has its fair share of family drama. Married with teen kids, Kate is a therapist whose former flame has just reentered her life and sister is in love with a serial killer. As Kate’s home life continues to unravel, her sister makes some decisions that jeopardize all of their lives.

Keyes, Marian — Sushi for Beginners – Lisa finally gets the promotion she’s been waiting for…but it’s Dublin, Ireland…not NYC, where all the movers and shakers are. On the other hand, Ashling LOVES Dublin and her new job working for Lisa. As always with chick lit, there are several different men who add complication to the plot. LOTS of fun…as usual from Keyes.

Rendell, Ruth — Murder Being Once Done – Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford is at it once again…this time in London, where he’s recuperating after a heart attack. But Wexford doesn’t know the meaning of the word REST, especially when he stumbles into a case of multiple murders.

Wickham, Madeleine — The Gatecrasher – Wickham (who also writes under her pen name Sophie Kinsella) once again scores with a weightier, meatier tale than she writes as Kinsella. This time, she features a main character who crashes funerals, hoping the new widower will be wealthy. Vivid characters outshine Wickham’s plot…but still lots of fun!

Winspear, Jacqueline — A Lesson in Secrets – Winspear’s 8th outing with her continuing sleuth Maisie Dobbs, who’s a spunky young PI in England between WWI and WWII. This time, Maisie is undercover in a college when the principal is murdered. Dobbs then reveals her true identity as a detective and begins to solve the crime.

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Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is a novel set in Grace, Arizona.  Codi and Hallie are the daughters of eccentric Doc Homer who watches them with great concern.  They are sweet and gentle girls.  Doc Homer insists they wear orthopedic shoes to their dismay. 
The stories take place during the revolution in Nicaragua.  Hallie joins the cause to help the people, not to fight, but to teach the children and to heal people.
Codi keeps looking back at her dreaded childhood.  She also has to keep track of Doc Homer who is sinking into dementia.  She doesn’t feel confident of herself.  Yet, as the story progresses, she becomes a fine teacher.  She concerns herself with the students.  Codi gives them sex education.  The class tests the nearby waters and finds the Ph is off the charts.  So they alert the town about the water problem.
The native citizens of Grace loved displays of religious objects.  “Some people had business with the saints on November 1, and went to Mass, but on November 2 ‘everybody’ had business at the graveyard.”
The intricacies of the Navaho, Apache, and other tribes are realistic. The romance is dreamy.  The writing is fantastic-a poetic journey ending in a paradise on earth.
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I was on vacation recently and read 10 books while away…8 being on my iPad. This is the first time I’ve done this. I mean I’ve tested opening the books and read one or two pages, but on the whole, it was the first true e-reading experience. And, I loved it. I used to travel with 4-5 paperback books that took up VALUABLE space in my suitcase (I have learned the hard way about packing so I pack VERY light now). Depending on the length of the trip, sometimes I would run out of books. So, I would head to local bookstore and buy some, which is money I could have been spending on crappy touristy trinkets. Also, as I finish the books, I leave them “on the road,” either in hotel libraries or I give them to fellow readers. So, basically, I’m spending money and forgoing luggage space on throwaway books. NOT ANYMORE! With my thin, lightweight iPad, I can pack on as many electronic books as I can store (thousands). And it ALWAYS takes up the same amount of space in my bag. And I have a plethora of choices…iBooks, Kindle (with the iPad app), NOOK (also with an app), Google Books, and, of course, books I downloaded from the library through both the Overdrive Media Console and the Bluefire apps. The prices of all of these books vary (the library ones were free, naturally) but spending money on books I will leave in my hotel room is even worse.

So basically, that’s my tale of love for my iPad and for e-books while on vacation.
At home, will I read books on my iPad from now on? I don’t think so…even with loving it as much as I do. Let me explain why.

First of all, there is the security factor that I have never been conscious of with books. Who cares if someone steals my $7.99 paperback…or even a library book for that matter, which might be $28.99. But, with my $499 iPad, I was constantly worried about this. I travel alone and when I was reading in a pub or restaurant, I would have to pack up my iPad, take it with me to the bathroom and then unpack it when I got back. When I used to have just a paperback on the table, I would leave it right out in the open while using the facilities.

Secondly, I was constantly afraid of getting the iPad wet. I was in England for most of my trip and we all know how English weather is…wet and damp. Yes, water is not a book’s best friend but again, a paperback getting drenched would be about an $8 hardship. Once more, the iPad’s price tag was getting in the way of my completely, unadulterated reading enjoyment.

Then, I had heard stories about how glare is a big problem for the iPad, whereas not a problem for people with non-glare “e-readers” such as the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble NOOK and the Sony Reader. When I was in St. Mark’s Square in Venice at an outdoor café and the sun was shining, I found out exactly how BIG this problem was. Quite big. I mean I could see the screen, but at times, it required a lot of adjustment. I had to increase the font size, increase the brightness of the screen and then just keep repositioning the iPad until I found the best position to see as much of the screen as possible. Suffice it to say, I didn’t sit at many outdoor cafés on sunny days.

Lastly, the most problematic experience with my iPad was when it just stopped working all of a sudden. I was away on a daytrip so I had to wait until I got back to my hotel to try charging it (even though when it conked out, it had about 60% of its charge left) to see if that brought it back to life. Nothing. So, I had to wait two days until I moved to a larger town where they had an authorized Apple service location. So, what did I do? I bought a book. A regular, ordinary, timeless, cheap book. With a book, there is never a “technical difficulty.” And if you lose it or it gets damaged, it doesn’t force you to take out a second mortgage to replace it.
Yes, the Apple service place was able to get my iPad up and running again (they had no clue what happened to it) so I was able to finish my trip reading off the iPad without having to exhaust Waterstones of their entire supply of Chick Lit and British Mysteries. But, until they devise something foolproof, while I’m at home, I will stick with a good ol’ fashioned book.

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Frank Mackey left Faithful Place, a low income Dublin neighborhood, when he was nineteen. He had planned to run away to London with Rosie Daly on that winter night but Rosie didn’t show. Rosie was never seen again. Twenty-two years later Rosie’s suitcase is found in a fireplace in a demolished row house. Frank is a detective on the Dublin police force and is determined to solve the puzzle of what happened to Rosie.
Faithful Place is not picture perfect Ireland. It is grim, Frank’s father is a nasty wife beating alcoholic and Frank’s brothers and sisters are highly dysfunctional. The neighbors generally distain the Mackey family and distrust of the police is high. How Frank comes to terms with his past and his intense love for Rosie in the solution of the crime creates great pacing and character development. The steadfastness of Frank supports the structure of the novel. The novel’s strength lies not only in the suspense but in French’s forceful examination of family dynamics in contemporary Ireland.
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It isn’t easy being the new kid in the school, or in the house. Sophomore Lucy Norton is left in her new home with her stepmother and her evil twin stepsisters by Lucy’s bi-coastal working father. Feeling ostracized in the house and isolated in her new high school, she takes refuge in her art class. Inspired by an older classmate Sam’s painting, she thinks he’s a jerk in person, but her opinion changes after he invites her to a show at an art gallery. Lucy finds herself struggling to find her identity and place in the world when she has an assignment to create a self portrait. But when a basketball game comment in the cafeteria attracts the attention of Connor, the star of the varsity team, Lucy suddenly rises in social status. She gets a date and some new girlfriends who are plugged into the school’s gossip feed. Will she remain the art aficionado or become part of the “in” basketball crowd? Is Connor really her prince?

Melissa Kantor’s If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? provides her independent narrator heroine with the wit and sarcasm to have the reader identify with her. She allows Lucy to show us the humor in her uncomfortable home and school life – “It’s so Brothers Grimm.” As she tries to maintain her bond with her dad, she feels that her stepmother is changing everything.

This is a good account of a created family trying to adjust to their new life together. It is a charming story of a contemporary teen dealing with the change and uncertainty that being in a new environment can bring. This book shows that having different and creative talents can be a beneficial and positive experience. Kantor does a great job at updating the Cinderella fairy tale. A fine frothy read for young adults and a fun read for adults too.

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This one was slow starting for me. But, once I got into the “Kitteridge” groove, it was a ride I thoroughly enjoyed. I think one of the off-putting things for me was that Olive is not the most likable character. Actually, she can be quite a B$*&%& at times. But, she does have her soft side, so once you get to know her, she does grow on you. Another thing that might have initially hindered my immediate enjoyment was that Olive’s story told in a series of interconnecting short stories. I’m not a big short story reader, so I admit I might have started this one thinking…”Oh, I’m not going to like it. It’s stories…” But, soon, that prejudice vanished when I figured out that Strout was not writing separate stories that happen to feature some continuing characters. She was weaving a tale of a woman’s flawed and marred life, through the eyes of all of the people around her. A strikingly good read!

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Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer manage to do it again in their latest book Wild Ride. With action, adventure, and quirky characters, the paranormal storyline take the reader on one heck of a trip.

Dreamland, an old amusement park in Ohio, needs some work. Mab has been working her butt off restoring the park to it’s former glory. Her goal is to have it shining for the Halloween celebrations. But it is a little strange that the owners and long time residents Gloria, Gus, and Delpha don’t want her working at night. And they are a bit anxious when she is working with the statues of the park mascots. Especially after FunFun the clown seems to run her over – or was that an illusion she had? Maybe she has been working too hard.

Gloria’s son Ethan returns from the military and gets shot at on the Dreamland grounds. Who is after the Dreamland residents? And what is up with the midnight roller coaster run? His mom keeps talking about demons. Ethan might just have to sober up to figure this all out. What do you mean he’s the new Hunter?

Using humor, and great plotting, Crusie and Mayer lead the reader down the path to figuring out just how paranormal this family park is. With twists and turns galore, it is indeed a roller coster of a ride. Great dialogue and lots of frothy fun! And it makes one want to visit Dreamland for real! A great read.
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